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Navistar rebound a success, senator says

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman visited Navistar’s Springfield plant Tuesday, describing the factory as a success story for the manufacturing industry as it has added jobs and become more financially stable in recent years.

The plant is providing good jobs for local workers, said Portman, R-Ohio. But he argued the federal government can do more to help the company thrive, including simplifying corporate tax codes and making sure U.S. firms have fair access to foreign markets.

Navistar is one of Clark County’s largest employers and local officials have said the Springfield site is at a critical point in its history. Both the United Auto Workers Local 402 and the UAW Local 658, a clerical union with about 89 workers, are negotiating contracts with the company.

The organizations hope to reach an agreement by Oct. 1.

The truckmaker has faced struggles in recent years, but Portman said the Springfield site in particular has fared well despite Navistar’s problems with an engine technology that was rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it failed to meet emissions standards.

Since then, Navistar has hired a new CEO, invested about $30 million in the Springfield plant and increased from about 300 workers in 2010 to about 980 union employees this year.

“Today it’s coming back again and it’s great to see,” Portman said.

Officials from the UAW Local 402 couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The Springfield site has received visits from several high-profile guests in recent months. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, visited the plant earlier this year and Navistar CEO Troy Clarke toured the factory last month.

On Tuesday, Portman walked along the assembly line chatting with workers. He advocated policies like opening more public lands for oil and gas development and moving forward with the Keystone Pipeline, along with doing more to ensure U.S. manufacturers have fair access to foreign markets to make the U.S. more competitive.

“If we do that we can bring back more and more jobs,” Portman said. “It’s an international market now and we’ve got to be sure it’s a fair market for U.S. workers.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office on Tuesday pointed to the Ohio Democrat’s recent efforts to provide assistance to manufacturing firms in Ohio. Along with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Brown said in a news release that he is is working to pass the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, which would create partnerships between the government, universities and private companies to speed the process between basic research and product development to help create jobs.

Portman said he has also worked to pass legislation such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which he said modernizes existing workforce development programs to make them more efficient.

Portman is rumored to be a potential candidate for U.S. president, but said Tuesday that for now he is focused on being re-elected to the Senate. However, he said he would evaluate the field of other candidates once that group becomes more clear before making a final decision.

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